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Mississippi State falls in NIT championship

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Bulldogs end the season with an 18-15 record.

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

FRISCO, Texas — A roller-coaster of a season for the Mississippi State men’s basketball team ended with a 77-64 loss to Memphis in the National Invitation Tournament championship game on Sunday at Comerica Center.

The Bulldogs end their 2020-21 season with an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) record, while the Tigers claim their second NIT title, the first coming in 2002, and finish 20-8 (11-4 AAC).

MSU was led by a pair of freshmen in forward Cameron Matthews and guard Deivon Smith with 19 and 17 points, respectively. Redshirt senior forward Abdul Ado added eight points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. His two blocks put him in a second-place tie with center Erick Dampier (1993-96) on MSU’s all-time block list.

Sophomore guard Iverson Molinar and redshirt sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr., MSU’s top scorers, were limited to six and four points. Molinar and Stewart both had phenomenal performances throughout the four-game tourney on their way to earning all-tournament honors. Prior to Sunday’s game, Stewart became first MSU player ever with three consecutive 20-point postseason games.

The Bulldogs shot 23-for-60 (38.3%), including 6-for-21 (28.6%) on 3-pointers.

Memphis shot 26-for-61 (42.6%) from the floor and 10-for-22 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Boogie Ellis paced the Tigers with 23 points, five assists and four rebounds. Sophomore forward D.J. Jeffries had 15 points, while junior forward DeAndre Williams had 12 points. Sophomore guard Lester Quinones had eight points and 16 rebounds.

The Tigers jumped out to a 13-0 lead and never trailed in the game. After Memphis’ opening run, MSU cut it to 16-8 on Molinar’s layup with 10:43 left in the first stanza.

Memphis then went cold and the Bulldogs ended on a 19-8 run that was capped off with a steal by freshman guard Andersson Garcia that he drove down the court for a layup to beat the halftime buzzer and knot things up at 33-33.

The Tigers made 16 of 24 (66.7%) in the second half, including six of their eight 3-pointers. Redshirt sophomore guard Landers Nolley II opened the second half with a jumper and a 3-pointer that put the Tigers up 38-33.

They stretched their lead to 10 at 56-46 with 8:29 left and the Bulldogs failed to cut the deficit to single digits the rest of the way as the Tigers went on to win 77-64.